Islamic State group claims responsibility for an attack on an Istanbul church that killed one person

Islamic State group claims responsibility for an attack on an Istanbul church that killed one person
Turkish police have since arrested 47 people as part of an investigation into the attack on the Mass on Sunday that killed one person.
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The Santa Maria Church is in the Buyukdere neighborhood of Istanbul [Photo by OZAN KOSE/Afp/AFP via Getty Images]

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for an attack on a Roman Catholic church in Istanbul during a Sunday Mass that killed one person.

The extremist group said in a statement late Sunday that it "attacked a gathering of Christian unbelievers during their polytheistic ceremony" inside the Santa Maria Church in the Buyukdere neighborhood in Istanbul.

Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said shortly before midnight that two men he described as members of the Islamic State group had been arrested in the attack. One of the suspects is from Tajikistan and the other from Russia, he said.

The statement claiming responsibility for the attack was published on Amaq, the media arm of the militant group, along with photos of two masked men holding guns whom it identified as the attackers.

It described the attack as killing one person and wounding another, while Turkish authorities said no one was injured other than the person who was killed.

Yerlikaya said police raided 30 locations and detained a total of 47 people as part of the investigation into the attack.

"We will never tolerate those who try to disrupt the peace of our country - terrorists, their collaborators, both national and international criminal groups, and those who aim at our unity and solidarity," Yerlikaya said.

Turkish authorities instituted a media ban on coverage of the attack.

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Sukru Genc, mayor of Sariyer district where the attack took place, told the newspaper Birgun that the gunmen fled when their weapon jammed after firing two rounds.

Genc said the people attending the Mass included Polish Consul General Witold Lesniak and his family, who were all unharmed in the attack.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Lesniak and Santa Maria's priest, the Rev. Anton Bulai, to offer his condolences.

On 3 January, 25 suspected Islamic State members were arrested across Turkey and accused of plotting attacks on churches and synagogues, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency.

The Islamic State has not previously targeted places of worship in Turkey but has carried out a string of deadly attacks in the country, including a shooting at an Istanbul night club in 2017 that killed 39 people and a 2015 bomb attack in Ankara that killed 109.

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu offered his condolences and support for religious minorities in the city, which like the country is primarily Muslim.

"There are no minorities in this city or this country. We are all actual citizens," he told reporters.

Pope Francis noted the attack in remarks at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City on Sunday.

"I express my closeness to the community of [the church] in Istanbul, which during the Mass suffered an armed attack with one dead and some wounded," the pontiff said.

The church is run by an Italian order of Franciscan friars. Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said his ministry was following the situation along with the Italian Embassy in Turkey's capital, Ankara, and the consulate in Istanbul.

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"I express my condolence and firm condemnation for the vile attack on Santa Maria Church," Tajani tweeted. "I am certain that the Turkish authorities will arrest those responsible."